Western fighter jets decision coming soon, says Zelenskyy after Sunak summit

What more will the UK do to support Ukraine? Political correspondent Romilly Weeks reports

Volodymyr Zelenskyy has said he expects the West to make a decision on providing Ukraine with air support soon, after a meeting with Rishi Sunak in Buckinghamshire.

Asked about the supply of Western fighter jets, something Ukraine has been requesting for many months, the president said: "In the closest time you will hear some, I think very important decisions but we have to work a little bit more on it."

Mr Sunak said the UK is "going to be a key part of the coalition of countries that provides that support", but pointed out "it is not a straightforward thing".

Speaking to the press alongside Mr Zelenskyy outside his countryside mansion Chequers, the PM added: "It is not just the provision of planes, it is also the training of pilots and all the logistics that go alongside that - the UK can play a big part in that."

No 10 also said Britain will send hundreds of air defence missiles and further unmanned aerial systems to the war-torn country.

He told reporters the UK would be training Ukrainian citizens "relatively soon" to become "absolutely combat ready aircraft pilots".

It came after spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Russia views Britain's military support of Ukraine “extremely negatively".

“Britain aspires to be at the forefront among countries that continue to pump weapons into Ukraine,” Peskov said.

“We repeat once again, it cannot yield any drastic and fundamental influence on the way the special military operation (in Ukraine) is unfolding.

"But, definitely, it leads to further destruction, further action. ... It makes this whole story for Ukraine much more complicated."

But Mr Sunak warned the Kremlin that the UK will be "steadfast" in its support of Ukraine against Russia and provide "long-term" assistance.

He hugged Mr Zelenskyy after greeting him at the PM's countryside mansion. Mr Sunak tweeted an image of their embrace with the caption "welcome back".

In brief remarks to the press before beginning talks, the Ukrainian president said the meeting would cover "very important issues, urgent support for Ukraine".

The crisis was a matter of "security not only for Ukraine, it is important for all of Europe," he added.

Downing Street said there are "no plans" to supply Ukraine with the Typhoon or F-35 jets operated by the UK.

The Ukrainian government has identified the more widely-used F-16 as its Western fighter plane of choice.

The PM's official spokesman said: "The Ukrainian government has made the decision to train their pilots on F-16 jets, that's a decision for them.

"Obviously, I believe, they are in discussions with other countries who use those jets and we are working with those countries."

But an elementary flying phase for cohorts of Ukrainian pilots will begin this summer, going hand in hand with British efforts to work with other countries on providing F-16 jets.

Mr Sunak said: "This is a crucial moment in Ukraine's resistance to a terrible war of aggression they did not choose or provoke.

"They need the sustained support of the international community to defend against the barrage of unrelenting and indiscriminate attacks that have been their daily reality for over a year.

"We must not let them down. The frontlines of (Russian president Vladimir) Putin's war of aggression may be in Ukraine but the fault lines stretch all over the world.

"It is in all our interest to ensure Ukraine succeeds and Putin's barbarism is not rewarded.

"That is why the UK is sustaining our support to Ukraine, from tanks to training, ammunition to armoured vehicles.

"And this message of solidarity will ring loud in all my meetings with fellow world leaders in the days ahead."

Mr Sunak compared Mr Zelenskyy's leadership to that of Winston Churchill's during the Second World War, pointing out the "great history" of their location.

"In fact this room that we are standing in, Winston Churchill made many of his famous speeches in World War Two from this room.

"And the same way today, your leadership, your country's bravery and fortitude are an inspiration to us all.

"I look forward to us discussing what more we can do to support you and your country."

It follows Zelenskyy's meetings in Paris, Berlin, and Rome, and comes three months after his first trip to London since the start of the war.

That occasion saw the Ukrainian leader attend an audience with the King and address Parliament in February.

Mr Zelenskyy tweeted: “Today – London. The UK is a leader when it comes to expanding our capabilities on the ground and in the air.

“This cooperation will continue today. I will meet my friend Rishi. We will conduct substantive negotiations face-to-face and in delegations.”

The two leaders laughed as they walked through the Chequers gardens. Credit: No10

A Downing Street read-out of the Buckinghamshire summit said: "The prime minister outlined the new package of support the UK has announced today, including further air defence missiles and drones.

"This builds on the confirmation last week that the UK has become the first country to provide long-range cruise missiles to Ukraine.

"The prime minister reiterated that the UK will continue its support to ensure Ukraine secures a just and lasting peace. That includes both immediate military support and providing long-term security assistance to guarantee Ukraine's ability to deter aggression.

"The prime minister said he would use his meetings with world leaders over the coming days at the Council of Europe and G7 Summits to stress the importance of sustaining global support for Ukraine at this pivotal time."

The latest visit comes days after Liverpool hosted Eurovision on behalf of Ukraine, amid ongoing British support for the country’s fight against Russia.

It also comes after Mr Sunak and Defence Secretary Ben Wallace announced that the government had agreed to authorise the donation of long-range cruise missiles after continued Russian attacks.

That decision was warmly welcomed by Mr Zelenskyy as a “significant enhancement” of Ukraine’s efforts in the war.

The visit by Mr Zelenskyy comes ahead of a G7 gathering in Hiroshima, Japan later this week and which will be attended by Mr Sunak.

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